Medically Safe, Legally Risky

The Urgent Need to Decriminalize Self-Managed Abortion in the United States

  • Hayley McMahon Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health


Self-managed abortion (SMA) refers to the self-administration of medications in order to terminate an early pregnancy without clinical supervision. Although using these pills to end a pregnancy has been shown to be very medically safe, the same cannot be said for the legal risks of self-managed abortion in the United States. Since 2000, 24 women have been arrested for allegedly attempting to self-manage an abortion or assisting another person in doing so. At least 20 states across the U.S. currently have policies that either explicitly criminalize self-managed abortion or have the potential to be misused for prosecution. This widespread criminalization of self-managed abortion poses a significant and complex threat to public health. Urgent legislative action is needed to decriminalize self-managed abortion at the federal level in order to protect the wellbeing of women and trans people who are at risk for unintended pregnancy. 

Issue Briefs